Holler If Ya Hear Me: Joey Badass Speaks for the People on ‘All-Amerikkkan Badass’ Album
Holler If Ya Hear Me
After saving the children on his debut album, Joey Bada$$ is speaking for the people with his new LP.
Words: Georgette Cline
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of of XXL Magazine, coming soon.
“Make Amerikkka suck again” is a jarring statement, but coming from Joey Bada$$, it makes sense considering the bold content of his sophomore album, ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$. When the rapper, 22, enters Contra Studios in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood on a late March afternoon, he makes the proclamation without uttering a word—the sentence is emblazoned across the front of his orange and cream-colored Ev Bravado shirt. Joey takes off his coat and begins playing his new album, dancing around with his hands soaring in the air to politically-charged songs like “Land of the Free.” “The music is a vibe, but it’s something that you just got to listen to,” the young MC says as he sips from a bottle of Essentia water. “Even though you’re having a good time, you will listen and be like, ‘Damn, he said that? That’s some real shit.’”
ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ finds the Brooklyn native addressing the sociopolitical climate in America during a President Donald Trump regime, all while rapping his ass off. Over the last five years, Joey Bada$$ has been in hip-hop’s public eye, he’s excelled in spitting rhymes of substance and led a movement that recalls rap’s glory days. His three solo mixtapes, a critically acclaimed debut album, an acting career plus his part in the Pro Era crew (comprised of himself and about 15 high school friends who are rappers, producers and DJs), Pro Era Records and the Pro Era clothing line has earned him respect from his peers and critics alike. Combine that with a solid fan base both on tour and online, and Joey has all the necessary ingredients to win. But, getting to that next level of mainstream success hasn’t been easy for him.
The current hip-hop atmosphere where rappers like Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Yachty (who both create more melodic rhymes rather than lyrically-driven songs) are thriving may have something to do with it. While Joey’s a fan and friend of Uzi (he thinks Uzi’s newest single, “XO Tour Llif3,” is “fire”), he knows they ride on different waves. However, Joey is here to prove that balance is key when it comes to success for both fans and artists themselves. There’s an open lane for his bars and brand to flourish. “[There’s] always gotta be a balance,” Joey says while lounging on a leather couch. “Unfortunately, today, the non-substantial rap is outshining the substantial rap but we just gotta balance it out.”
Since Joey, born Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, was 17, his mission has been to open people’s minds through his rhymes. While studying theater (Joey initially had dreams of being an actor) at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, the rapper of Jamaican and St. Lucian descent was simultaneously creating the Pro Era movement with his close friends, the late Capital Steez and Powers Pleasant. Founded in 2011, Pro Era was launched with the idea of bringing a new wave of consciousness and positive vibrations to the game. Joey was the first Pro Era member to “blow up” according to industry standards after a freestyle he uploaded to YouTube in 2010, caught the attention of his current manager and Cinematic Music Group founder, Jonny Shipes. He was just 15 years old when he met Shipes, and Joey’s been blessed to keep his circle close and full of the same faces since then. “The only people that I don’t have around me anymore are the people who passed away in my life,” Joey shares. “And if they were still living they’d still be around. But literally, I got the same people, same management.”
For the next two years, Joey continued his high school run and developed his sound before dropping his 2012 debut mixtape, 1999. The project showcased the then-teen going for substance over mumble rap from the start. “Survival Tactics” and “Waves” exemplified golden era revivalism. Working with the likes of MF Doom and Lord Finesse displayed his respect for the culture and features from Pro Era members Steez, CJ Fly and Kirk Knight meant Joey was hitting hip-hop’s open road with his Pro Era team in tow. During that time, Jay Z tried to sign him to Roc Nation and Diddy wanted him for Bad Boy Records, but Joey chose to remain independent with his management team’s support.
Taking meetings with Hov and Puff and releasing PEEP: The aPROcalypse with Pro Era in 2012, added to his highs that year, but on Dec. 24, 2012, things changed dramatically for the worse. Pro Era co-founder Capital Steez took his own life that day. While his suicide was a tragedy for Joey and the hip-hop collective, they’ve made sure to keep Steez’s legacy alive through the annual Steez Day festival in his honor. “I’m always paying homage to my bro,” Joey reflects on his friend. “I always got him in mind. Like, he’s still here with me, just not in the physical, but I know he’s still around. He’s still making things happen from just, you know, above.”
Thanks to Steez, Joey chills with The Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac on a daily basis. Though the three rappers are dead, according to Joey, they surround him at different moments of his day from writing music to meditating. Biggie represents Joey’s Brooklyn stomping grounds, ’Pac is his favorite rapper of all time and of course, Steez was his boy.
“Steez bring everybody around, from ’Pac to Biggie,” the rhyme slinger says. “I feel all their spirits when I’m making music, when I’m writing music or just when I’m by my lonely, like, you know, just meditating. I hate to be like, ‘I’m the chosen one’ or anything, but I just feel like I’m in the middle of it all and I am the vessel receiving it. Wherever I’m standing at in the light, I’m just receiving it all. Like, all the energy, the messages, what I got to put out there, what I got to tell the youth, what I got to put into the music, the messages I got to spread.”
Despite his friend’s death, Joey moved forward by spreading his progressive message the following year. He hit the road nationwide and overseas for the Beast Coast tour, bringing Pro Era and fellow Brooklynites Flatbush Zombies and The Underachievers along with him. Summer Knights, his follow-up solo tape in 2013, continued his lyrical brigade and socially conscious stance.
By 2014, he was at work on his debut album, B4.Da.$$, dropping the Kirk Knight-produced lead single “Big Dusty.” But Joey didn’t limit himself to solo material. Joey also teamed up with rap veterans Royce Da 5’9” and DJ Premier (“Golden Era”) and Buckshot and P-Money (“Flute”) for collabos on their respective projects, which were in tune with his under- ground vibe. He even landed an Adidas Skateboarding endorsement and kicked off the B4.Da.$$ tour in support of his new LP, though it wouldn’t arrive for another year.
A few weeks before B4.Da.$$ debuted in 2015, former President Barack Obama’s eldest daughter Malia was spotted wearing a Pro Era shirt from the crew’s merch line. As the image quickly circulated on the web, the moment became free publicity for not only his first album but also for Joey’s expanding brand. When the album finally arrived, via Pro Era/Cinematic Music Group, his popularity combined with songs like the gritty Basquiat-produced “Christ Conscious” earned the MC a No. 5 debut on the Billboard 200 albums chart. But climbing the charts wasn’t enough for the New York-bred artist. Respect was what he yearned for. While Rakim and Q-Tip are just a few of the hip-hop veterans who have been quick to sing his praises, it’s the new generation’s acceptance he was after.
“For a long time I used to be frustrated because I felt like I wasn’t getting the respect from the new generation of people,” Joey states. “I felt like they were trying to not talk about me. But once you got all the legends talking ’bout you, all the OGs rooting for you, it’s like, Fuck everybody else. I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I really ain’t got no more issues. I used to be a little more bitter but I just don’t care.”
With that newfound blasé attitude regarding new-generation opinions, Joey began crafting his sophomore opus, ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$, in 2016. “Devastated,” the project’s first single, was out of the norm for the MC, with its galvanizing, pop-friendly vibe. But with balance in mind, he moved forward with its release. During that time, he also made his acting debut, starring as Leon on the second season of USA’s hacktivist drama series Mr. Robot. With a TV gig added to his resume, his growth as an artist and entertainer couldn’t be denied.
Now, two years removed from dropping his debut LP, the Pro Era leader is on a higher level. As Joey puts it, his new album has an elevated sound and direction. The largely publicized deaths of Black men, both young and old, by the hands of police in recent years are the driving force in its creation.
“All of the unfortunate events that’s been going on over the last couple of years, specifically the ones that’s been like, you know, in the media a lot. Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile,” Joey explains. “For me—like, you know, as a young Black man, you know, as a hip-hop artist—I feel really affected by these things when it happens, but I also feel really connected. I feel really close to it. I almost feel like, you know, it could happen to me.”
In the spirit of albums like Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ not only represents a sign of the times but also serves as the voice of the people.
J. Cole, Schoolboy Q and Meechy Darko are just a few of the collabora- tors expressing themselves on Joey’s new LP. Meechy, a member of Flatbush Zombies, appears on the ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ cut, “Ring the Alarm,” featuring Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution. He and Joey have been friends both in and out of the studio for years. “He is the definition of an MC,” Meech says of Joey’s artistry. “And that’s what separates him from a rapper. He’s an MC in its truest form.”
Joey Bada$$’ voice doesn’t go unheard in 2017. When he speaks, fans, critics and even the haters pay attention. His contribution to hip-hop can’t be challenged because this guy can seriously rap; he’s likely to give even the best lyricists some tough competition when put to the test. Spitting bars doesn’t faze him; he’s mastered his craft. What he’s focused on now is his impact and where he stands when it comes to the greatest of all time. “Now it’s about my influence, about how I’m gonna touch the world,” Joey proclaims. “Because you know, we have thousands of great MCs and you don’t even know their names. People who spit way better than me, people who make me look like a fucking Lil Yachty or some shit. I would never say I’m the best lyricist in the world but I’m up there as a rapper.”
As he relaxes his head against the couch inside the dimly lit studio space, listing off his current projects, it’s clear Joey Bada$$ is more than just a rapper. Challenging himself and balancing his talents across multiple revenue streams plays a big part in ensuring he secures his bag for the long run. Aside from focusing on a rap career, Joey confirms he’ll be returning for the third season of Mr. Robot. While he’s steadily auditioning for other opportunities (he’d love to do a revolutionary film but thinks comedy roles will come his way), the lyricist is also busy making his mark in the fashion world. Joey continues to develop his Pro Era clothing line and potential bigger brand deals are in the works, in addition to an internet-based pool show (“It’s just going to be me playing pool with all my celebrity friends and interviewing them”). Joey is hustling hard.
By comparison, Joey is accomplishing much more than the average man at 22. Though he hasn’t hit the typical mainstream marker for success, he’s winning his own personal race. But, even with his new album released and his hand in a variety of industries outside of music, it’s still not enough for Badmon. “There’s always room for improvement,” he expresses, “even in the Bada$$ world.”
See Photos of Joey Bada$$ in XXL Magazine Spring 2017